Grandfather gave me poetry.
Of course. My great-grandmother. The Hundred Poems. I know without having to check on the school ports that this poem is not one of them. She took a great risk hiding this paper, and my grandfather and grandmother took a great risk in keeping it. What poems could be worth losing everything for?
The very first line stops me in my tracks and brings tears to my eyes and I don’t know why except that this one line speaks to me as nothing else ever has.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Author: Ally Condie
Synopsis: Cassia’s Society regulates everything from daily meals to date of death. Still, she’s always looked forward to the Matching banquet, where future spouses—matches generated from compatibility data—are revealed. To everyone’s surprise, she is Matched to her best friend, Xander. He’s good-natured, gently protective, and handsome, and she can’t believe her luck—until she discovers another face on her Match microcard. All at once, she’s faced with a choice. But choice, in the perfectly controlled Society, can mean the destruction of everything she knows and loves.
Notes: I’m going to give this book an generally positive review, so pardon me while I indulge in two small complaints: dystopia tends to be too horrific for my taste, and I detest love triangles.
But Ally Condie fills the corners of her chilling tale with beauty—and not just beauty itself, but the search for it, the yearning for its hope and meaning. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.
The first chapter or two of Matched almost seem peaceful, lulling the reader into the security all Society members supposedly experience. Only after the Matching banquet, around the time that Cassia visits her grandfather, does the horror really begin to set in. Throughout the book, the reader wrestles with the good and evil sides of the seemingly perfect life, just as Cassia does.
Beauty comes in surprising places. The use of the Dylan Thomas poem “Do not go gentle into that good night...” gave me goosebumps and added a lot of depth to the story. Cassia’s grandfather deserves mention for the things he teaches her. And dislike for love triangles aside, this book had one of the loveliest, most unique developments of a romance that I’ve ever seen in a young adult novel.
Other relationships were also interesting. I honestly appreciate the existence of kindly-portrayed, non-naive family, especially parents, in a YA novel. Cassia's mother and father had an interesting dynamic going with their differing attitudes toward the Society's rules, and the grandfather is particularly compelling.
Cassia won my concern quickly, in part because I sympathized with her desire to please, to follow rules and fit in. Some may find her a little bland at the beginning, but it's hard to imagine a reader not caring about her by the end. She makes a slow but strong progression toward accepting risk for the sake of what is right and what she loves.
The setting could have been a little more vividly imagined, but it worked well nonetheless. I was especially fascinated by its nature. Too often the Big Bad Society in dystopia is based on some aberrant parody of religion. Matched sets up cold irreligious utilitarianism in all its understandable motives, and quietly champions human dignity—including the dignity of the aged and imperfect—and the value of beauty and creativity. I can do nothing less than cheer.
Recommendation: Read it when you wish your life were perfect. It’ll change your mind.